When it comes to live Webcams, live can mean anything from streaming real-time video to a still picture that refreshes every few seconds or. . . yawn. . . every few minutes.
If I have to wait more than 20 seconds for a picture to refresh, the Webcam might as well be called the Watching Grass Grow Cam.
My sister homeschools her grandson and oftentimes I scour the Internet like a hound dog chasing down a rabbit as I search for sites I think the little guy will get a kick out of and sites that will, of course, further his education.
He is very interested in animals and has probably devoured every animal book in the children’s section of the local library. Animal programs on television are fun to watch, but certain shows are only on at certain times and unless the Crocodile Hunter is on every station, your zoological channel surfing could turn out to be nothing more than a wild goose chase.
Trips to the zoo reign supreme when it comes to seeing animals live and up close. But there are times when the tigers are too pooped to romp around their man-made playground, or the black bears are hiding inside their caves because it’s a scorcher of a day outside.
And what if you don’t live near any zoos or animal parks?
That’s where the Internet and live zoo Webcams really shine.
Our first stop on this zoo cam safari is the Smithsonian National Zoological Park [http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/WebCams], where five live zoo cams are fixed upon elephants, pandas, flamingos, Amazonia fish, and something bizarre called a naked mole rat.
You need Windows Media Player to see the animals in real-time video. If you don’t have the software, the site provides a link where it can be downloaded for free. Because of the popularity of the site, only 60 viewers can watch a single Webcam for 10 minutes before they are automatically forwarded to a still image page. This allows everyone a turn at watching the live video.
The Panda exhibit is so popular that the site actually has two panda cams focused on its two primary residents, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. Want to know which is which? The site has a ton of information about the exhibit and how to tell the two pandas apart.
The Flamingo cam is filled with—you guessed it—pink flamingos. The odd birds with the S-curve neck and backward-bending knees look like they are posing for the opening scene of Miami Vice. The Elephant Cam is set back and the elephants to me seemed far away from view. But right-clicking the mouse and choosing “zoom” and then clicking the higher percentage of the close-up shot can zoom in all the cams. Amazingly, the zoom feature doesn’t hurt the integrity of the picture.
The Amazonia River Fish Cam is an underwater view of such finned swimmers as the red-tailed catfish, black pacu, guppy, and the pirarucu—one of the largest fresh water fish in the world. The tank is set up in the zoological park’s rainforest exhibit.
The next stop on our zoo cam safari, which takes us to the aquatic side of the animal kingdom, is the Monterey Bay Aquarium [http://www.mbayaq.org], where indoor and outdoor exhibits bring the enchantment of sharks, sea turtles, tuna, and other sea life into your home without the fear of ever having a leaky fish tank or enough brine shrimp to go around.
Nearly everyone loves to watch fish. Their rhythmic motion and the gentle swirling of the water soothe humans. We also love the feeling of fear as we watch—safely from our seat in front of the computer—ominous sharks slip into view.
The site has five Webcams powered by Loudeye. The neat thing about this site is that you can jump from cam to cam without having to hit the browser back button.
The Sea Otter cam is fixed on a bubbling pool where Rosa and Mae have lived since 1999 and 2001, respectively. Both came to the aquarium as abandoned pups and were never quite acclimated to live in the wild. The Outer Bay cam is just that—a large tank with over 80,000 gallons of water and plenty of sharks, turtles, tuna, and other sea creatures. The blue color of the exhibit isn’t created by the water but by over 1.6 million 1-inch-square glass tiles. The cam says it’s a live feed, but sometimes the picture moves in fits and starts.
The Monterey Bay cam is a shot of Monterey Bay, naturally. In the middle of the shot, jagged rocks protrude, daring the waves to break around them. Sometimes there are harbor seals basking on the rocks or playfully swimming around them. The Kelp Cam is an underwater ballet of beautiful green kelp climbing through deep blue waters and reaching for the open sunlight above. The dance is kept going by a surge machine that gently rocks the kelp, keeping it in step. There are some neat little fish in this tank and every once in a while a leopard shark zooms by.
The Penguin Cam shot leaves much to be desired. There are supposed to be 15 penguins in this exhibit, but the camera shot is fixed on a rock where only about two penguins “nest” every once in awhile. Otherwise, you’re looking at a blank rock with a little pool of water splish-splashing against it.
It’s the same with the Otter Cam. Blank rock. Dark green water in the foreground. And when the otters do happen to hop up onto the rock, they are so far away, they look very small.
The Discovery Channel [http://dsc.discovery.com] has several live Webcams but the best one is the Tiger Cam that provides six cameras, bringing all angles of the tiger habitat right to you. The tigers on display live at the privately owned TigerHomes Animal Sanctuary in Florida. Marcan and Sherikohn are the two Siberian tigers who live here. The site is refreshed every 5 seconds or so.
The Polar Bear Cam is focused on a ledge with snow and is refreshed every few seconds. The site even admits that the bears are kept in another part of the exhibit and may be out of site. However, it encourages you to “watch long enough” and you just might get a glimpse of Marty, and cubs Mizar and Alcoren.
The Penguin Cam here is set at the Polar World exhibit at the Montreal Biodome in Montreal, Quebec. The Antarctic section is home to about 46 penguins representing four different species of the tuxedo-dressed birds. Again, the camera is focused on a rock, so very few penguins can be seen at one time.
Next stop is the Minnesota Zoo courtesy of Channel 4000. Point your browser to http://www.channel4000/livecams/animalcams and head straight for the shark tank. The sand tiger sharks swim straight for you, so don’t put your nose too close to the computer monitor. Other harmless fish fill the gaps between the wait for the shark to circle its way around the tank again. Keep looking and an occasional sea turtle or stingray will happen by. It’s like having your own saltwater aquarium without the expensive upkeep.
There is another animal at the zoo called the Gibbon monkey who gets a Webcam all to himself, and the neat thing about this cam is that the viewer gets to control it. Made possible by LiveWave, the Webcam allows viewers to move the cam about, zoom in or out, and basically spy on the little monkey in 30-second intervals. If you become a member of LiveWave, you can control the cam up to 4 minutes at a time.
So take your little ones on a zoo cam safari. It’s safe, free, fun—and let’s not forget educational.
Linda Allardice is a freelance writer with 20 years experience. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two teen-agers. And yes, she lets them drive the Mustang.